HIGHGATE, Vt. — For Jason Gagne, maple syrup is more than a topping. It's a lifestyle.
"It's not just for pancakes anymore," he said.
Gange runs his family farm, Gange Maple, and he's right. The use of maple has expanded.
"People use it in baking, cooking, they love it in their drinks at night," he said. "You can put it anywhere."
For Gagne and thousands of other maple producers in the Northeast, that expansion happened rapidly during the pandemic.
"COVID found that more people were eating maple syrup at home," Gagne said. "When the restaurants all closed, the consumption of maple syrup went up."
Gagne says demand went up about 25% — and it's up everywhere.
The Québec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP) recently released around 50 million pounds of maple syrup from its strategic reserve in November to try and keep up with demand.
"Demand for maple syrup has been booming in 2020 and 2021," the QMSP said in a statement. "Businesses, noting the average-only harvest in Canada and the United States, responded by increasing their orders, necessitating QMSP's withdrawals from the Reserve."
Experts in the American maple industry say the country won't run out of syrup any time soon.
"There's still plenty of maple syrup to go around, there's not really a shortage of maple syrup," Gagne said.
Experts say tapping into a strategic reserve is pretty normal for agriculture economies.
"Typically, these reserves are in place in order to balance supply and demand and pricing," said Jack Buffington, who runs the supply chain program at the University of Denver. "A lot of times in agriculture and farming, it relates to pricing,"
Buffington says specific food shortages likely aren't as serious as they may seem, unlike the shortages affecting some other commodities.
"There's some commodities where this really matters: Oil semiconductors, aluminum, copper. Commodities that are critical," Buffington said. "This is really the lifeblood of how our supplies chains work."
Maple may not move the needle on a national level, but it's the heartbeat of the economy for thousands of producers in the Northeast and their families.
"The family's been making maple syrup pretty much as long as anybody can remember, from my grandfather and going back to his parents," Gange said. "We've grown from when we started here from maybe 1,500 trees that we tap, and now we have over 22,000 here."
Gange knows farmers don't farm for the money. They do it because they love what they do.